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Pat the Freakin' Bat: an Appreciation and Plea

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UPDATE, 7/7, 4pm: Burrell reportedly is a close third behind Corey Hart and David Wright. C'mon folks--let's do this!

Why is it that I so badly want Pat Burrell to win that Final Vote All-Star Thing? Well, the easy answer is that he's a Phillie, I'm a fan, and it somehow gratifies me, in the stupid but undeniable way of these things, for any Phillie to achieve success. Or maybe it's simply that Burrell's having a great year and deserves to go on the merits. 

Or maybe it's that I've invested Burrell's entire career arc with a whole bunch of metaphorical crap that I'm going to briefly inflict on you now, in hopes that you'll want him to go as much as I do. Yeah, that's it. 

Ten years ago, Pat Burrell personified the promise of redemption for a franchise that had horribly lost its way. After nearly a decade of competitive if not quite championship-caliber play, it's easy to forget just how adrift the Phillies seemed in the late 1990s. In 1998, the year Burrell was drafted first overall, the Phils completed their sixth straight sub-.500 campaign and twelfth in the previous thirteen. They'd tack on two more through 2000, Burrell's rookie year. He joined a young nucleus featuring all-stars Mike Lieberthal and Scott Rolen and a fellow outfielder, Bobby Abreu, who looked like he'd join them. But Burrell was the prize: a natural-born hitter whom some considered the best college ballplayer ever, a bright, good-looking guy who emanated confidence--who gave the aura that he couldn't possibly fail.

Through Burrell's first two full seasons, he seemed to be on pace: his age-25 campaign in 2002 looked like the coming-out party of a future MVP. That offseason, he signed a six-year deal worth over $50 million.. and then in 2003, he was helpless, suffering through a nightmare season of strikeouts and missed opportunities; seldom if ever has a young player of his pedigree gone so completely and inexplicably wrong, and his falling short was the team's margin of disappointment.

Over the next three years, Burrell's failure to live up to his contract seemed to match the team's failure to fulfill its promise: an injury-marred 2004, a semi-satisfying 2005 season in which Burrell drove in 117 runs and finished seventh in NL MVP balloting. But the team fell agonizingly short again, and it was first whispered, then baldly stated, that Burrell cared more about enjoying the lifestyle of a big-league ballplayer than the team's success. Through it all, Burrell kept taking responsibility for his play, and insisting that he loved Philadelphia and that the fans treated him well.

By then, he wasn't really a young player anymore. Had the Phillies reached the playoffs in 2006, Burrell likely would have celebrated his 30th birthday during the first round. That year he struggled with men in scoring position, was frequently benched, and reportedly vetoed a trade that would have cut him loose, forcing the club to deal Abreu instead. And as the Phillies barely missed the playoffs once again, it was Burrell--the last big name from that fading era when a young team first seemed on the cusp of doing something special--who was relentlessly targeted by the fans and the sadistic/neurotic sports radio culture of the city as the big reason why. 

Pat Burrell bottomed out just over a year ago. On July 1, 2007, he was hitting .201/.369/.364, and there were calls in the Philadelphia Daily News for his outright release. And then, all the sudden, the light went on: from July 2 through the end of the season, Burrell hit .302/.426/.616 with 22 home runs and 65 RBI in 316 plate appearances, carrying the team for stretches as the Phillies overtook the Mets--a team Burrell has tormented since his rookie year--to win the East. Looking at the numbers, one could perceive a reversal of fortune: Pat's batting average on balls in play went from flukily low to unreasonably high, more of his fly balls left the yard, and so on. From a "watching the games" perspective, though, the promised superstar from ten years ago finally had hit town. 

In his last 165 games, Burrell is hitting .290/.418/.600, with 43 homers, 118 RBI and 123 walks in 677 plate appearances. The formerly diffident slugger is now one of the most expressive players on the field; maybe it's being more conscious of his physical limitations--Burrell never will be confused with a sprinter or a Gold Glover--but it's never been clearer that he's a maximum-effort player, or that he knows his time is starting to run short and wants to make it count. Now the boos aren't for Burrell, but for Charlie Manuel when he lifts his slugger for a clearly inferior player like So Taguchi; you never hear about Burrell's partying anymore, which means the now-married thirty-something either has calmed down or gotten more discreet. 

This could be the left fielder's last season in Philadelphia, and he's not been shy about expressing his wish to represent the club and the city as an all-star. Let's get him there: you know what to do